Senate Democrats clear Burris as Obama's successor
By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer Liz Sidoti, Associated Press Writer – 1 hr 15 mins ago
WASHINGTON – Eager to put the scandal-tainted standoff behind them, Senate Democrats accepted Roland Burris as President-elect Barack Obama's Senate successor on Monday and said they expect to swear in the new Illinois senator this week. "He is now the senator-designate from Illinois and, as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a senator-elect," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a joint statement.
At a news conference in Chicago, Burris called himself honored and humbled to be the state's next junior senator. "I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve," he said and added: "I recognize that my appointment triggered a challenging time for many."
Monday's development prevented the impasse that has plagued Democrats from dragging on into Obama's inauguration festivities that begin this weekend, and it capped a grudging, gradual retreat by the Senate's top Democrats.
Initially they had tried to dissuade Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who faces a state Senate impeachment trial, from making an appointment and suggested that his pick would not be seated. Last week, Burris' credentials were rejected by Senate Democrats in a circus-like atmosphere that tarnished the opening day festivities of the new Congress.
But Reid and Durbin said they now anticipate that Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, will be seated this week, barring objections from Republicans.
They made the announcement after Burris' lawyers delivered to the Capitol documents certifying his appointment to Obama's seat, and the secretary of the Senate determined that the paperwork met Senate requirements.
While a victory for Burris, the move is a major reversal for Senate Democrats.
They initially indicated they would refuse to seat Burris and objected to the appointment by Blagojevich, who is accused by federal investigators of seeking to trade the Senate seat for personal favors.
Senators feared that any appointee would be tainted.
Even though Burris does not stand accused of wrongdoing, Senate Democrats rejected Burris last week only to quickly backpedal after Obama himself privately weighed in and senators fretted that the situation was diverting their focus at a critical time.
Indeed, much to the chagrin of Democrats who expanded their House and Senate majorities in the November elections and won the White House, the standoff stretched into the new Congress' second week in session and has served as a distraction for Democrats trying to tackle an ambitious agenda.
It includes weighty tasks like holding confirmation hearings for Obama's new Cabinet while negotiating both the second installment of last fall's $700 billion financial bailout package and the president-elect's mammoth new spending plan aimed at jolting the economy.
Senate Democratic angst over seating Burris softened last week as the Burris appointment took on the feeling of a political sideshow.
Under pressure from Obama and rank-and-file Democrats to resolve the dispute, Reid said a "number of efforts" would be undertaken, including sending the matter to the Senate Rules Committee. He also said that "without any question" the entire Senate would vote on whether or not to seat Burris after Senate lawyers reviewed necessary documents and Burris' testimony in the Illinois House that he had promised Blagojevich nothing in exchange for the seat.
But Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Monday that Reid doesn't intend to have the Rules Committee review Burris' appointment, and that the Senate will vote on the appointment by unanimous consent unless there is an objection that would trigger a roll call vote.
From Illinois to Washington, Republicans assailed Senate Democrats for how they handled the issue.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is leading the Senate GOP's election efforts, accused them of "arrogant mismanagement" and said: "This entire situation has been a national embarrassment that could have been avoided." He pledged to make winning the Illinois Senate seat a top priority for Republicans in 2010.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna added: "Democrats chose to trust a madman over the people of Illinois" by seating Burris instead of blocking Blagojevich's appointment and holding a special election.
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled last week that under state law, Burris' appointment paperwork was valid and that it was up to the Senate to decide whether to seat him. But Reid and other Democrats had contended that it violated Senate rules unless the appointment was signed by both the governor and the Illinois secretary of state.
After lawyers for Burris and the Senate met for under an hour in the Capitol to review the documents, Reid and Durbin issued the statement that they were satisfied both with the documents and with Burris' testimony before the impeachment panel that he did nothing wrong.
Associated Press writer Deanna Bellandi in Chicago contributed to this report.